Retail summit

Downtown merchants should give extended hours a solid trial.

May 5, 2011


Congratulations to Downtown Lawrence Inc. for putting the issue of extended retail hours back on the table.

The organization has scheduled a “Downtown Retail Summit” for Tuesday to discuss the potential advantage of later hours for downtown shops. It’s obvious that downtown fills up in the evenings with people who come to enjoy dinner, a drink or an entertainment opportunity. Why not add shopping to that list?

Whether extended hours make sense is open to debate, but it seems worth a try. To properly test the potential benefit of longer hours, a large number of downtown retailers would need to commit to standard extended hours that could be promoted to prospective customers. And businesses would need to stick to the extended schedule long enough for customers to get used to it. Six months might be a reasonable period.

Summer seems an ideal time to give this idea a try. Band concerts in the park or a trip to the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center bring potential customers downtown later in the day. Longer daylight hours encourage them to stay a while to shop or dine out. By mid-August students will be returning to Lawrence, which always feeds local business. Home football games and other activities also would contribute to downtown activity.

Downtown retail vacancies seem particularly high right now. We know these things tend to run in cycles, but downtown merchants shouldn’t be satisfied to just keep doing things in the same old way and see what happens. Longer hours may not improve their bottom line, but it’s worth a try.


Kookamooka 7 years ago

Here, here. We went to final Friday's last week with our kids and I wanted to get some shoes for them at Browns. They were closed. I could have easily and willingly dropped over 100.00 on shoes that night. So...instead, Supertarget. They were open.

But I do think people expect a certain level of customer service when they shop at a boutique or small local shop. If a merchant stays open later but doesn't meet the customer service expectation, they still might not make the sale.

What am I saying? A merchant should be willing to do whatever a merchant has to do to keep their business afloat. If that's staying open later or being nice and attentive and helpful to their customers, then that's what it will take. Your customers are not the bad guys. They are the very, very good guys.

Mark Zwahl 7 years ago

It is worth considering that staying open later will be a investment with some risk. Each hour open costs a business X amount of money and has to bring in at least that much - or else money is lost. So initially, business will lose money while waiting on thousands of folks to get in the habit of utilizing the extended hours. That may be a good idea. It may be a good idea for some types of businesses and not others. But this is asking them to take a risk. Easy to say. Not as easy to do.

Evan Ridenour 7 years ago

In actuality, the cost of staying open a couple of hours later is small (outside of the owners time).

Almost all of the costs are fixed (rent, insurance, inventory, etc) and the costs that are variable are marginal (utilities, you would think these would be much lower when store is closed but generally utility usage barely drops... if at all and employee wages).

It is very unlikely that businesses would be hemorrhaging money (I would say doubtful that almost any of them would post zero "profit" from the activity). What is more likely is that all of those small shop owners downtown don't want to have to be in their store during the evening and won't do it unless they will get an enormous profit right now.

jafs 7 years ago

If utility usage barely drops, then stores are wasting a lot of energy heating and cooling empty spaces at night.

Bob Forer 7 years ago

You need to remember that all stores except for the ones on the ends of the block usually have a common fire wall between them, and therefore there is very little loss or heat or cooling from the side walls. Also, most stores on Massachusetts have apartments or offices above them and lose very little heat or cooling through their ceilings. When you think about it, downtown shops are usually much more energy efficient than your typical home because of the additional "insulation." Therefore, the costs to heat or cool for a three to four more hours an evening are relatively de minimis.

There are many urban areas with heavy night life whose small shops stay open to take advantage of the evening crowds. Certain areas of San Francisco and Miami, as well as Key West Florida, and Greenwich Village, Manhattan, are a few that come to mind.

I certainly think it is worth a try.

jafs 7 years ago

I'd like to see some numbers.

Stores, in my experience, are generally over cooled in summer and over heated in winter.

And, Eride's comment was that usage "barely drops" when stores are closed. That means either they're using too much overnight to heat/cool the spaces, or they're not using hardly any during the day.

I'd bet it's the first one.

As far as staying open in the evenings, I've always wondered why normal store hours are during the day when most folks are working.

billybrewster1 7 years ago

Everyone enjoys having the owner/operator behind the counter in a small, locally owned business. The professional service and genuinely caring attitude of merchants that are part of their community is what makes the difference when shopping locally (as opposed to some big corporate store).

But what's the answer for these merchants when they have lives of their own to live?

"I'm sorry Mr./Mrs. Merchant, you're not allowed to attend your children's soccer game or school recital because I'm the customer that wants to come in and ask you a bunch of questions about a product that I'm going to purchase online because I'm cheap and don't want to pay a slightly higher price and sales tax versus an online transaction. And I can only come down there after I've eaten dinner. See you at 9 o'clock."

What makes the "owner's time" any less valuable than your own?

Evan Ridenour 7 years ago

The owner can feel free to make that choice but at the same time they shouldn't turn around and whine to us, their customer base, because we won't go pay significantly more for the same product, for worse service and incredibly worse convenience.

They need to stop blaming the consumer for their own failing business model.

I have a few friends who built highly successful small businesses and they had to poor their entire lives into them. If it were easy everyone would be doing it... blaming your customers instead of blaming yourself is a cop out.

Brock Masters 7 years ago

I was downtown last night and wanted to buy a gift for the wife so I went to a store she likes, but guess what - they close at 5pm. Business must be good that they can close that early. How the heck can anyone get off work and downtown by five?

Maybe businesses dont have to stay open late all the time, but many missed an opportunity on last weeks final friday. Lots of people and lots of closed stores that my wife would have dragged me into. I hate shopping with her, but I get my best ideas on what to by her when I go with her.

Does a business owner have to stay open late? Of course not, it is literally their business, but the successful business will take advantage of special events that bring large crowds.

billybrewster1 7 years ago

Funny. I didn't notice anything in my post about "whining" about the customers (other than the ones that obviously are using merchants for info before they cheap out and buy their stuff online). What I noticed was customers "whining" that stores weren't open late enough for their needs.

My question was how late is late enough to satisfy your needs? I've been Downtown for a few Final Friday events and you know what I saw? A bunch of people walking around buying nothing.

The answer to successful retail in Downtown Lawrence is not "more people Downtown," it's "more shoppers Downtown."

And I'm all for more highly successful businesses Downtown. I just don't want to "poor" [sic] my entire life into it.

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